Blog Articles
03
There you go again, Governor. “Stepping on toes.”
 
Some people think leadership is about getting people to work together, or inspiring them to put the common good ahead of self-interest or even, as Harry Truman once said, “persuading people to do what they ought to have enough damn sense to do on their own.”
 
Not our Governor. He believes a leader’s job is to “step on toes.”
 
Yesterday, he resorted to that same phrase twice, once in praising his outgoing Commerce Secretary and then in the video launching his reelection campaign.
 
Of Sharon Decker’s work on the public-private economic development partnership, McCrory said: “She stepped on a lot of toes to make that happen.” She apparently will now be stepping on toes in the private sector, while John Skvarla steps on toes in Commerce rather than DENR.
 
McCrory’s campaign website has this video clip: “As a mayor for 14 years, I knew you had to take bold action, and you had to step on the toes of people who wanted to keep the status quo.”
 
The phrase struck a familiar chord. A Google search unearthed this gem of a story last year by Jeremy Markovich at Charlotte magazine: “The Pat McCrory Toe-Stepping Quote Generator.” Markovich collected a long list of toe-stepping.
 
In July 2013, the Governor told CNN: “I have stepped on toes in my first six months in office of the right and the left and the media.”
 
In September that year, he told the Washington Post: “We’re stepping on the toes of a lot of the establishment that’s been controlling this state government for a long, long time, on both the left and the right.”
 
He didn’t hold out on in-state media, telling WRAL in January 2013, “I don't want to step on people's toes to cause pain. I want to step on people's toes to get them to stand up and recognize that we've got a problem and we've got to fix it” and WNCN in July “But listen, I'm shocked [my approval numbers are] that high because we're stepping on the toes of the status quo.”
 
Or local media. He told the Mt. Airy News, “These are the toes I’m stepping on in North Carolina right now.”
 
Now, maybe the Governor is just “staying on message,” as they say. Or maybe he can’t think of anything else to say. Or maybe there’s some deep psychological explanation we can’t begin to figure out.
 
Maybe we’ll want him to keep stepping on our toes for four more years. Or maybe we’ll give him the boot.

 

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02
A TAPster points out that my blog yesterday about Young Dems didn’t take note that two young Dems (“young” being broadly defined as younger than me) already are making their mark in statewide office.
 
I wrote that Senator Josh Stein could be “the first in his class” of young Democrats to be elected to statewide office. My apologies to 40-somethings Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin and Treasurer Janet Cowell!
 
Also of note, Goodwin was the first Young Democrats of North Carolina President elected to the legislature in decades, perhaps the first elected to the legislature while still serving as YDNC President, and the first former YDNC officer elected to statewide public office since Elaine Marshall.
 
Making this correction allows me to make a point: Nothing solves a party’s problems faster than recruiting, developing and encouraging good candidates. Nothing prolongs the problems more than a conflict between generations – e.g., “those old fossils need to get out of the way” or “those young whippersnappers need to wait their turn.”
 
Old heads and new faces can make a powerful combination.

 

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01
Democrats looking to the future should look today to the swearing-in of four new Wake County Commissioners.
 
They are a large part of why I told the AP’s Bill Barrow that the key to the party’s success in 2016 and beyond "will have to come from younger Democrats in the cities." Huffington Post picked up his story, and my quote got widely circulated over the holiday.
 
Which prompts me to, as they say in Congress, “extend” my remarks to include not only the young but also the young in spirit, like Sig Hutchinson, who was key in organizing the unified Wake campaign that elected him and three other commissioners, John Burns, Jessica Holmes and Matt Calabria. That blend of experience and new faces, as with Sarah Crawford and Tom Bradshaw in the hard-fought Wake Senate races, is powerful.
 
Democrats’ House victories in Wake and Buncombe counties were bright rays in an otherwise dark November sky. The party now needs to build on that success and on the strengths of an extraordinary new generation of leaders now rising across the state.
 
Just to name a few: newly elected Representatives Gale Adcock in Wake and Brian Turner in Buncombe, Senators Jeff Jackson and Jeff Ford of Mecklenburg, Wake Rep. Grier Martin, Wake Commissioner Caroline Sullivan, Dare Rep. Paul Tine, plus Deborah Ross, Kim Hanchette, Dan Blue III, Zeb Smathers, Andy Ball and a host of active and impressive Young Democrats and College Democrats.
 
Wake Senator Josh Stein may be the first in his class to move up to statewide office in 2016. Watch him debate Senator Bob Ruccho on tax policy, and see why.
 
In years past, the Young Democrats Clubs produced leaders like Terry Sanford, Jim Hunt, Bill Whichard, George Miller and more. In years ahead, young Democrats can produce more leaders like them who can win and govern successfully.
 
For now, the Wake County commissioners can blaze the trail for the party’s statewide comeback in 2016 and beyond.

 

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28
Bowater is a wise old soul with a unique way of looking at the world. He’s an older white gentleman who grew up in Northeastern North Carolina but grew out of the political views that his peers espouse over coffee at Bojangles. I wanted his take on Ferguson.
 
He smiled. “Well, I must be the only person in America who gets both sides.”
 
That’s a signal for me to raise an eyebrow and invite him to launch a typical soliloquy. I did. And he obliged.
 
“I get how a policeman might take his gun and fire away at a guy he thinks is trying to kill him. Being a cop is no fun job to have. You gotta make split-second decisions when somebody’s coming at you. And I get how all my friends say the grand jury heard the evidence and decided that the cop didn’t commit a crime.
 
“But,” he started, then stared out the window. “A grand jury ain’t a trial jury. And I’ve always heard a DA can indict a ham sandwich if he wants to. So I guess it’d be an easy thing for a DA to let a guilty man off if he was so inclined.
 
“So I get black people getting mad and feeling like they’re getting screwed by the system. After all, they have been all their lives. And I get how there are always hotheads who want to burn everything down.”
 
Bowater doesn’t go on Facebook or any of that, so I told him about all the rage and bile that’s come out, some of it among friends and family members. What’s that about?
 
He looked out the window again. “That ain’t nothing new. I’ve seen that before. I saw it right here in the 1950s and the 1960s when they started integating the schools and passing civil rights laws. I saw the same anger you’re seeing on this Facebox or whatever it is. It’s just the same old thing.
 
“Son, that’s what people do when their way of life is threatened. Back in those days, white people didn’t think black people should go to the same schools and stores and restaurants we did. They felt threatened when the government said they had to.
 
“Over time, they got used to that. But now they feel threatened a new way. Hell, a lot of it’s because we elected a black President. Nobody ever thought that would happen. And we got immigrants who speak Spanish. People like me always felt like, even with integration, we were on top and would stay on top. Now that’s changing. People are mad and scared because the world is changing and they feel threatened.”
 
I ventured, “It makes you worry about what’s going to happen in this country.”
 
He wasn’t having any of that. “Hell, boy, we had a Civil War! We killed each other over this kind of thing. But we got through it. I lived through a Depression and a World War and all the civil rights upheaval. We got through it. And we’ll get through this.”
 
He took a sip of coffee and looked out the window. “We always get through it.”

 

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26
Thanksgiving is the best. Black Friday is the worst.
 
Thanksgiving is the best of all holidays. It’s family, food and football. It requires no angst and anxiety about giving and getting presents. It does require a lot of cooking, so a big thank-you to all who are spending today in the kitchen. Those of us who help so little will demonstrate our gratitude tomorrow. We can at least clean up the dishes.
 
Thanksgiving brings out the best in Americans, a genuine thankfulness for having the good fortune to live in a country where we can eat to our heart’s content, complain about the government and not worry about famine, disease or a midnight knock on the door from the thought police.
 
Black Friday, not so much. If you’ve ever had anyone close to you go to work at 3:30 a.m. Friday to be ready when the hordes of deal-hunters invade – or even worse, go in at 5 p.m. Thanksgiving Day – you’ll never get over resenting the consumerist frenzy involved.
 
Thankfulness is the noblest of human emotions. Greed – and the hunger to get something you don’t yet have – is the lowest. There’s a reason the Buddhists call that “dukkha,” meaning suffering, anxiety, stress and unsatisfactoriness.
 
For myself, I thank all of you who read this blog, and especially those who tell Carter and me that you read it.
 
For one day, let’s forget our political divisions and just be thankful we live in this country.

 

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24
One thing Democrats did right this year was push education onto the public agenda. But will it last? And the key question: Where do they take it now?
 
The Hagan campaign came close largely because they almost turned a United States Senate race into a school board election.
 
The same thing was true in many legislative races. Republicans who were running scared campaigned like Democrats, promising to improve the public schools and even to raise teacher pay to the national average.
 
One path for Democrats now will be to see whether Republicans keep that promise in what looks like a legislative session that will be dominated by a shortfall in revenues
 
But Democrats should be wary of falling into a trap that equates more money with better education.
 
Republicans are learning how to push back against the charge that they “cut $500 million from education.” And, if you Google that charge, you’ll find a series of fact checks that challenge its veracity.
 
Given their ideological preference for vouchers and charter schools, Republicans are not likely to appropriate much more money for the schools. Their position is more likely to be: “We’re spending more money than ever before on the schools, but they’re not getting better. We have to do something different.”
 
Democrats better figure out how to overcome that argument.
 
Same with the universities. Democrats can’t just criticize budget “cuts” – more accurately, cuts in per-pupil spending – when Republicans are already rolling out their riposte: “North Carolina spends more on its universities per pupil than all but three other states.”
 
I saw this movie in the 1990s with Governor Hunt. It’s why he didn’t just say: “Let’s raise teacher pay to the national average.” He also, always, said: “And let’s raise standards for teachers, students and schools.”
 
To win in 2016, Democrats will again have to propose more than more money.

 

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21
All American politics today – the battle over immigration, the election two weeks ago and even legislative elections in North Carolina – is all about Barack Obama.
 
Presidents always dominate the political scene. But this is a special case. Yes, it’s about race. But it’d also about something more, something deeper in America’s psyche.
 
Here’s a theory. The election of Obama in 2008 as our first African-American President was a shock to the American system, both pro and con. For blacks and for whites who cared about equal rights, even if they didn’t vote for Obama, it was an historic step forward. For many other people, well, not so much.
 
At the very same time, we went through another huge shock to the system: what felt and looked like an economic collapse. I know very smart and very affluent people who were so worried they were hoarding as much cold cash as they could. It’s as close as we’ve ever come to feeling the fear that our parents and grandparents felt in the Depression.
 
So we had a double-whammy: our first black President and an aggressive – and controversial – effort by the federal government to intervene in the economy and prevent a collapse. An effort begun, although this is totally forgotten today, by the Republican administration of President George W. Bush.
 
Bush’s Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulsen, famously got down on one knee and begged then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi to save his plan to save Wall Street.
 
Somehow in our minds, that all morphed into an image of Obama as a Welfare King, taking money away from honest, hard-working people and giving it to lazy, good-for-nothings who just want a handout – the Great Redistributor.
 
Which then led to Wall Street types like Mitt Romney, who were rescued by Paulsen’s plan, blasting Obama for raiding “makers” and rewarding “takers.”
 
Now that narrative has taken hold, and Democratic politicians and political operatives in North Carolina this year tell about voters – especially older white voters – who refuse to even talk with a candidate who is a Democrat, let alone vote for him or her.
 
As one consultant said, “White, working voters – young and old – see everybody else getting help. The government helps poor people, the government helps big banks and now Obama wants to help immigrants. Well, what about me? What about my job, my income, my retirement? What about my children graduating from college with a huge debt and not being able to get a job?”
 
The divide in the Democratic Party today is whether to try to answer their questions – or to simply drive up turnout among those people (judging from the Tillis-Hagan race, 47 percent this year) who have stuck with Obama.
 
The Republican Party has chosen its course: No to Obama, all the time, whatever he does.
 
But a party of No ultimately has no future. Especially if the other party figures out how to bridge the divide. And say Yes to everybody who’s trying to make it in America.

 

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21
Fleeing toward the mountains from her burning village, fifteen years old and trapped on a dusty road packed with refugees, she was captured and carried across the border to a town on the Euphrates River filled with captive women from other towns.
 
The soldiers sold part of the women at an auction as slaves then divided the rest as spoils;---taken by a bearded soldier she fought back until he put a knife to her 19 year old sister’s throat then she followed him out of the camp to a house where he told her to undress and bathe and gave her a hijab to wear; for trying to escape she was beaten and traded to another soldier who locked her in a room full of women he intended to force to marry him.
 
The next night, sitting and listening to girls in other rooms in the house being raped, she tried to escape again, squeezing through a small window – just before dawn, exhausted, at an isolated farm house a young Arab man gave her shelter. The next day he took her to an older man who offered to smuggle her out of Syria if her family would pay him a ransom.
 
Her brother paid $3,700.
 
It’s a story straight out of the Dark Ages but it didn’t happen nine hundred years ago in the Levant it was reported in The New York Times last Saturday.
 
ISIS is the rebirth of the Mongol Horde and the Huns and our army could stop it but our President has been in China making a treaty on global warming.


 

 

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20
Governor McCrory’s political instinct is right, but his choice of battlefield is puzzling.
 
The Governor seems to understand that the best way to get reelected is to pick a fight with the legislature. Governors are always more popular than legislatures. McCrory’s approval ratings are twice as high as this legislature.
 
But why not fight over something the public cares about? Nobody cares which politician appoints the coal ash commission.
 
And McCrory brings a glass jaw to this fight. As Senator Berger put it a while back: “The governor’s primary concern appears to be a desire to control the coal ash commission and avoid an independent barrier between his administration and former employer.”
 
“Former employer”! Yikes! Sounds like something a Democrat would say.
 
Or will say next year.

 

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20
The Governor sent a letter to Thom Tillis and Phil Berger taking the legislature to task for asking for an independent audit of the Department of Health and Human Services.
 
Then the next day, when the Governor needed it least, the News and Observer reported that when DHHS’ new computer didn’t work the Department got into such a tizzy the number of mistakes it made processing food stamp claims quadrupled and it paid out $440,000 in excess benefits.
 
Here’s how government works: DHHS spends a hundred  or so million dollars on a computer program, it  doesn’t work, the department makes four times more mistakes than it did the year before and pays out $440,000 in excess benefits – and the Governor tells the legislature an audit’s a waste of time.


 

 

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Carter & Gary
 
Carter Wrenn
 
 
Gary Pearce
 
 
The Charlotte Observer says: “Carter Wrenn and Gary Pearce don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But they both love North Carolina and know its politics inside and out.”
 
Carter is a Republican. 
Gary is a Democrat.
 
They met in 1984, during the epic U.S. Senate battle between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. Carter worked for Helms and Gary, for Hunt.
 
Years later, they became friends. They even worked together on some nonpolitical clients.
 
They enjoy talking about politics. So they started this blog in 2005. 
 
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
 
 
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